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How Do I Recognize Addiction?

Addiction is defined by an uncontrollable and increasing need for the addictive substance or behavior. For addicts, engaging in the destructive behavior of their addiction is no longer a choice — they are not able to stop even if the addiction is negatively impacting their physical, mental and emotional health, their performance in their job or at school, and their personal and professional relationships.

The surest indicators of addiction are: uncontrollable desire for the addictive behavior or substance; increasing fixation on the behavior or substance, and increasing need for it in order to satisfy the addiction; feeling symptoms of withdrawal, such as anger or depression, when trying to limit or stop the addictive behavior; and unsuccessful attempts to stop.

These indicators might be difficult for you to observe, but there are other, related symptoms of addiction that you can watch for.

Common Addiction Signs

Some signs of addiction are common to a variety of addictive disorders. General physical, behavioral or lifestyle symptoms that indicate someone might be suffering from an addiction include:

  • Withdrawal from social interaction
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities and hobbies
  • Strong reliance on the substance or behavior as a means of relaxing or of escaping real life
  • Significant weight gain or loss, especially in a short period of time
  • Lying or being evasive about how much they partake in the addictive substance or behavior
  • Sudden financial problems for no apparent reason
  • Moodiness, irritability, aggression

Did You Know?

Most experts recognize two different categories of addiction: substance addictions, like alcoholism or drug addiction, and process addictions, like compulsive shopping or gambling. However, either kind of addiction can have both physical and psychological factors.

It’s important to note, however, that just because someone is displaying one or more of these characteristics or behaviors does not mean they have an addiction, since some of them are also signs of other mental health conditions, such as depression or an eating disorder.

Disorder-Specific Addiction Symptoms

In addition to major indicators of addiction like the ones listed above, different addictions come with different specific symptoms. A compulsive shopper is less prone to memory blackouts than an alcoholic, for example, and video game addicts are unlikely to show signs of substance abuse such as the tooth decay of meth addicts or the cough and wheeze of the heavy smoker — which also makes the point that, in themselves, different substance addictions produce different warning signs.

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